In response to:
The Secret of Danny Santiago from the August 16, 1984 issue
To the Editors:
I feel sure that readers of John Gregory Dunne’s fascinating piece on Danny Santiago will want to know that Dan James’s (Danny Santiago’s) wonderful novel Famous All Over Town is available not only in hardcover (Simon & Schuster, $14.95) but in paperback (Plume, $6.95). Dunne says that “Famous All Over Town was published in March 1983 to no fanfare,” which is to some extent true, though it did garner rave reviews in such places as The New York Times, Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, the Pittsburgh Press, and the Dallas Times Herald. And there certainly was great enthusiasm for the novel among paperback publishers, evidenced in a very lively auction for reprint rights which NAL won for a substantial 5-figure advance. We published Famous All Over Town as the lead title in our Plume Fiction imprint this past spring, and we agree with Dan James that if the book was good with Danny Santiago’s name as author, it’s just as good now that we know it was written by James.
New American Library
New York, New York
To the Editors:
We who were blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy period may have deserved some of the slings and arrows we suffered, but the insults flung our way by John Gregory Dunne are outrageous [NYR, August 16].
“[B]y and large the Party attracted B-picture writers,” he says, and adds that “[t]ax returns confirmed the stigma of the second rate.” His evidence? Murray Kempton citing Leo Rosten about a list of the seventeen “highest paid” screenwriters of 1938, only one of whom had “since been identified as a Communist.”
The equation here between talent and income can only be described as vulgar. All kinds of writers were ridden out of our company town, some of them “important” in Hollywood terms (like our pseudonymous Oscar winners), some of them unimportant. Among the B-picture writers “identified” as Reds were John Sanford and Nathanael West. So let’s watch out for snobbery.
But wait. We were not only hacks, according to Dunne, we were slackers. It was the wartime position of the Party, Dunne tells us, “that its writer members could serve the cause of the proletariat more effectively at the typewriter than at the front.”
This is bullshit. There were dozens of Hollywood Reds in the service. Dunne alludes to but does not name one of them, the writer who collaborated with Dan James on The Great Dictator. He was hired, Dunne says, bitchily, because Chaplin coveted his girl. Who was he? Robert Meltzer, killed in action in Normandy.
John Gregory Dunne replies:
Bullshit indeed. I would like to point out that I used neither the word “hacks” nor the word “slackers,” the saltiness of which gives evidence of Mr. Jarrico’s training in compressing life into polemical scenario. I nonetheless regret that Mr. Jarrico feels he has suffered my slings and arrows. On the injustice and vileness of his persecution and blacklisting, and the persecution and blacklisting of other screenwriters (as well as those accused in all walks of life), there can be no disagreement. As a sometime screenwriter, however, I do not share Mr. Jarrico’s high regard for the craft from which he was barred from making a living, nor do I feel that the evil of the blacklist requires me to do so. On that, I hope we can reasonably disagree. Screenwriting, the two time Academy Award winner* Bo Goldman recently said, is like coitus interruptus; the screenwriter is a specialist in foreplay but is never around for the climax. It is an arrangement that satisfies some screenwriters, both A-and B-picture, as it appears to have satisfied Mr. Jarrico. This does not make his black-listing, or the blacklisting of his fellows, any less wrong, stupid, or cruel. I am aware of the meritorious military service of Robert Meltzer, Michael Wilson, and others; this does not change my point about the position of the Party in Hollywood during the war. Finally I do not accept that Nathanael West was a B-picture writer. He was a novelist whose later work was financed by B-pictures, which is a different thing altogether. I should also say that I was not aware, nor do I care, that West was ever “identified” as a communist until Mr. Jarrico so identified him.
For One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Melvin and Howard. ↩